Why did Jesus speak in parables?
If you’ve read the Gospels you have probably noticed that Jesus often told stories, or parables. Jesus seemed to prefer teaching and communicating through story. And many of these parables have become famous. But they aren’t just well-known, these parables illustrate profound truths.
I’ve written on many of these parables because I think they are fascinating and powerful.
But why? Why did Jesus speak in parables?
That’s what we are going to explore in this blog post. We will explore why Jesus used parables and the power that is in stories.
What Is A Parable?
Before we can look at why Jesus used parables, we need to ask: What is a parable?
A parable is a short story that’s used to teach a spiritual lesson. Parables typically take an earthly truth that’s known to illustrate a heavenly truth that’s unknown.
You can think of a parable as a teaching aid or an illustration. Parables helped bring the complexity of Jesus’ teaching into a more understandable format.
Not to say that people always understood Jesus’ stories. They didn’t; he’s often found having to explain them. More on that later.
In short, you can think of a parable as an earthly story with heavenly implications.
Why Did Jesus Speak In Parables?
Several times in the Gospels Jesus is approached by someone and asked a question. But rather than respond with an answer, he tells a full-blown story.
Regularly in Jesus’ sermons and teachings, he uses illustrations, parables, and stories. He didn’t just give lectures of facts, he painted pictures with his words.
Jesus preferred to communicate via stories. Why? Stories are powerful. They are more effective than facts. Jesus understood the power they have and leveraged them to inspire and bring about life change.
But I think there’s more than that.
So, why did Jesus speak in parables so often? I want to look at 5 reasons why Jesus loved to teach in stories.
1. To Fulfill Prophecy
Matthew 13:34-35 tells us that Jesus spoke in parables to fulfill prophecy and to hide (for a time) his purpose. This is the most obvious answer and where most people stop. Why did Jesus speak in parables? To fulfill prophecy.
I don’t want to downplay Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. But I think there’s more going on in Jesus’ use of parables. I think he understood the power and impact that stories can have.
Let’s look at some other reasons that Jesus spoke in parables.
2. Answers Aren’t As Important As We Think
We love answers. Most people find Rethink because they Googled a question and were directed here. We are used to having our questions answered fast.
For most of us in the western culture we tend to overemphasize the importance of the answers. For us, knowledge is power and information is king. But maybe it’s not as important as we think.
Jesus often sidestepped the questions that were asked of him. Rather than answering the question he tells a story about something seemingly totally different.
Why? Because he’s more concerned with our heart than adding to our knowledge. Our heart is what brings about change; our head just fills with facts.
Sometimes the answers we think we need won’t bring us what we hoped. Sometimes the questions we ask aren’t really what we are after. More information rarely leads to life change. But when our heart is addressed life change is soon to follow.
God gives us what we need, what we are really after. But he doesn’t always give us the answers we are seeking.
That’s why Jesus often responded in parables to the questions he was asked. He knew that the answer wouldn’t bring comfort, hope, or create life change. But a story could.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? Because answers aren’t as important as we think, they don’t give us what we really need.
3. Stories Are Portable
You can likely recall several stories that you’ve been told over the years. A good story sticks with you. You can remember it years later, maybe not all the details, but at least the premise.
Stories are portable, they stay with you.
In contrast, all that information, facts, dates, equations that you spent over a decade committing to memory fade quickly once your diploma hits your hand.
The reality is information by itself is easily forgotten. It’s not portable. But tie that information to a story and it’s much easier to recall.
This is the genius of Jesus’ teaching. His parables take essential information and wrap it up into a memorable story. They are portable. You can take it with you and easily remember it.
Jesus could have just told it how it is. He could have just said the facts. After all, he created the facts. But he didn’t do that. Instead he chose to tie truth to a story.
Why did Jesus use parables? Because they are portable. In a culture where few could read, Jesus taught in a way that was memorable.
4. Stories Inspire
Rarely is someone’s life changed by encountering facts or hearing a lecture. You likely have several habits you know are not good, but continue anyway. Facts are easy to ignore. And we do just that.
All of us have facts we ignore and instead choose to live by a narrative that’s more exciting. Why? Because stories inspire. Information, and even truth, doesn’t.
People gravitate towards what inspires them.
We have a massive disconnect in our society. Our schools, workplaces, parenting styles, and even many churches focus on information and not inspiration.
Truth (information) by itself falls short in creating meaningful life change.
But when you pair truth with inspiration life change is inevitable. That’s exactly what parables do. They tie the truth about God’s kingdom to an inspiring story. And it works.
Stories inspire. We cannot expect information alone to change anyone’s life. People will direct their life towards what inspires them. That’s one reason Jesus used stories and why we should use more in our life too.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? Because facts and plain truth don’t inspire. Stories do.
5. Stories Paint A Picture Of What Could/Should Be
We are all pointing our life in a direction. Some of us just don’t know what direction that is. Stories give us a goal, a target to aim for. Stories paint a picture of what could be. They give us a target we can point our lives at.
But stories aren’t just good for furthering a message or inspiring change. They play a pivotal role in our existence. We need stories. Without them we will end up aimless.
Again, where stories become the strongest is when they are tied to truth. Which is exactly what Jesus did. He painted picture after picture of what life with him was to be like. Both in this life and in the next.
Jesus gives his followers something to aim their life at. Stories paint a picture of what could be.
Why did Jesus use parables? To paint a picture of what could be, what should be. Stories help us see what could be.
Living Out Your Story
Now that we’ve seen why Jesus spoke in parables I want to look at the power of living in the story that God has created you for.
Throughout this book Donald Miller looks at life through the lens of a narrative. He argues most of us settle for a boring reality when God has a meaningful narrative for us. The book shook me out of my thinking of life as day to day and moved me to see my life as a story I was writing.
I developed a new narrative for my life. I want to live a life that’s a story worth telling. With a new charge for my life I start viewing decisions through this lens. What kind of story do I want to tell? How does this decision write my story? And does my story point others to God or am I living a story about myself?
I used to dread conflict, difficulties, and the fear of the unknown. But now I recognize every good story has conflict and something to overcome. If I want my life to be a story worth telling I must overcome and not succumb to the challenges in my life.
Don Miller says it this way: “Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.” A Million Miles In A Thousand Years
Your life is a story. Your life is telling those around you something about God. So, don’t settle for a boring reality most exist in. Instead, let God tell the meaningful narrative he intended for you to live.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? To help you see that your life is a story. Why not let God tell a meaningful story with your life?
Parables In The Bible
Some of my favorite blog posts to write are the ones that break down Jesus’ parables. I’ve long been fascinated by these stories, and I want others to see the significance in these stories too.
Jesus was a masterful storyteller, yet today I don’t think we give him enough credit. But once we break down the stories and understand what he was doing we will have a much greater appreciation for these stories. Along with appreciation comes a deepening of our faith.
My goal is one day to have a blog post for each parable. So far I have seven. Now that you’ve read about why Jesus spoke in parables, why not read about a specific parable next?
Here’s what I’ve written on so far:
- The Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus (A Powerful Lesson You Need To Hear)
- The Parabdle Of The Sower Meaning (6 Powerful Lessons)
- The Parable Of The Talents Meaning (4 Important Truths You Need To Know)
- The Good Samaritan Meaning (And 4 Powerful Lessons)
- The Prodigal Son (What You NEED To Know About This Shocking Story)
- The Parable of the Wedding Feast (the POWERFUL truth of Matthew 22:1-14)
- Lessons From The Rich Young Ruler (3 powerful truths)
Jesus was a masterful storyteller. If we let them, Jesus’ parables can still make an impact today. But these stories aren’t only for us. They are for us to share. Jesus gives us a way to share his message in an effective way. Stories are portable, inspire, and paint a picture of what could be.
Not only should we tell the stories Jesus told, we should use stories in our schools, workplaces, and homes. Rather than relying on lectures to communicate our message, we should tie our information to a story.
Let’s hear from you! How would you answer the question, “why did Jesus speak in parables?” How does the power of story impact your life?
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